Supreme Court takes up fishing case: Can government force fishing boats to pay for federal onboard observers? Law crafted by Sen. Ted Stevens is in play

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On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will deliberate on a legal principle related to how much authority federal agencies have when interpreting laws and making regulations.

The case involves herring fisheries in the Atlantic, but hearkens back to a bill crafted by Sen. Ted Stevens, and could impact a wide array of sectors, from healthcare to environmental regulation. It is one of the most closely watched cases of the Supreme Court’s docket this year.

In Loper Bright Enterprises, et al., Petitioners v. Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commercethe matter involves something called the “Chevron doctrine,” named after a 1984 Supreme Court ruling in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, which set the legal test for when U.S. courts must defer to a government agency’s interpretation of a law or statute.

In Chevron, the case was about the Clean Air Act, which required states that had not yet achieved national air quality standards to establish program to regulate and permit ew or modified major stationary sources of air pollution, such as manufacturing plants. The Environmental Protection Agency had passed a regulation under the Act that allows states to treat all pollution-emitting devices in the same industrial grouping as though they were a single “bubble.” A group of litigants led by the Natural Resources Defense Council challenged the bubble provision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit set aside the EPA regulation as inappropriate for a program enacted to improve air quality. But the Supreme Court at the time, under Justice John Paul Stevens, said the bubble regulation was a reasonable interpretation of the term “stationary source” as referred to by the Clean Air Act.

More detail at this Supreme Court link.

The Chevron doctrine outlines a two-step process for courts to assess an agency’s interpretation of statute. Courts must decide if Congress had specifically addressed the issue in question. If the answer is no, the agency’s interpretation of how it interprets the law is considered reasonable.

Over time, the Chevron doctrine has become a cornerstone of federal administrative law, and has been referred to in over 18,000 court cases. Conservatives have been highly critical of the law, which gives bureaucrats vast powers over the private sector that it regulates.

This is the first time since 2016 the high court has agreed to reconsider the doctrine. In Wednesday’s arguments, the fishing company Loper Bright Enterprises challenged a rule made by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a law crafted by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and Washington Sen. Warren Magnuson in the 1970s.

The rule promulgated under the Magnuson-Stevens Act forces the fishing industry to fund observer costs at $710 per day for data collection. This forced fee is being contested by the fishing companies that argue that the NMFS rule and data collection fee exceeds the Act’s authority.

Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the agency, applying the Chevron doctrine, although applying different reasons.

In November 2022, Loper-Bright petitioned the Supreme Court to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision and reconsider the Chevron doctrine. The case was accepted in May 2023. The Supreme Court added a related case, Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce, to its docket.

The fisheries are represented by former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and lawyers from Cause of Action, a New Jersey public-interest firm.

Joining the case on behalf of fishing families and companies are Americans for Prosperity, The Foundation for Government Accountability, American Cornerstone Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Manhattan Institute, Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America,  Buckeye Institute and National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, Inc., the Cato Institute, and dozens of other entities, including  U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, House Speaker Mike Johnson, and 34 other members of Congress.

Environmental groups are arguing as friends of the government’s side. Environmental Defense Fund, Ocean Conservancy, Save the Sound, and others have taken up the cause to protect the Chevron doctrine.

12 COMMENTS

    • In a strange way it is disgustingly efficient. Similar to the way some people on their way to the executioners axe had to pay for a clean beheading.

      I never understood why the left went after “Uncle Ted”. He was as purple as Barney the Dinosaur.

      Chevron must to overturned.

    • A men! They are forcing longliners in Alaska to take observes on fishing trips now. This is a invasive rule and burden placed on us here and now. This should be overturned and not forced on small boat operators in Alaska or anywhere.

    • Jefferson, the real Tyranny was when Fishermen petitioned the Government for an exclusive franchise of a public resource, (think ground fish I.F.Q’s). Ostensibly this granting of I.F.Q’s was to better manage the resource, in reality it merely limited participation and granted access only to those grandfathered in with quota’s that can be sold for a handsome price, (think instant millionaire).
      I have little sympathy for those who sought a Faustian bargain. They are not victims of Tyranny but accomplices with a Tyrannical regime. Don’t grieve for them, anyone having jumped in bed with the dogs should expect to be infested with fleas.

  1. If this crazy interpretation of the law is overturned it is a game changer for the USA. The Federal Government Deep State has made a living operating within the confines of status quo Chevron ruling. Crippling Alaska at every opportunity. Just look at the EPA ruling on Pebble Mine. Or the Wrangell Electric School bus EPA requirement to destroy a conventional powered school bus. The Supreme Court has shown courage on Roe v Wade, let’s see if they can have a repeat performance.

    • It’s less an interpretation of law than a giant (deliberate?) loophole in it.

      Since the law has structural flaws, Congress and ignore it and pass their responsibilities to the Swamp.

  2. At long last the Supremes will revisit their abominable Chevron decision! This seemingly minor ruling in 1984 ended up opening the door for the deep state to firmly establish itself as a significant unassailable force within the government. This herring fisheries issue is only the tip of the iceberg of a massive unchecked power structure quickly built up by the unelected bureaucracy since that ruling. Some of the worst offenders were the EPA and the DOI.

    Maybe, just maybe…

    Of course Roberts will side with the government, but fortunately there are five others who may finally stop them. This would be huge!

  3. In one word: NO. The government needs to be squashed back down to its appropriate size. It has gone too far for too long dictating what the people can do and giving itself more and more power. Power to the People.

  4. “The Environmental Protection Agency had passed a regulation”, Yeah, I remember seeing their name on the ballot.

  5. The federal government has long used these “regulatory agencies” as a method of control over states. The EPA provides an edict which must be complied with or federal financial assistance will be withheld. This is the same behavior throughout the Federal system and has been effective in removing individual freedoms in Alaska since statehood.

  6. Take a right; turn it into a license; add civil and criminal fines to it. It’s the Alaskan way. They still haven’t got the hang of the US Constitution and never will due to the advanced ignorance of the people and perpetual non-education regarding the US Constitution. Alaskans are no longer even curious about their God-given liberties.

  7. Ocean Conservancy, Save the Sound, etc. These environmental groups originate from coastal and waterfront cities. Yet, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of homeless camps on the shores of our oceans, bays, and rivers. No sanitary services, all the waste (human), trash, dirty hypodermic needles, and other items wash directly into the waterways. Nothing being said or done.

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